Keeping The Old Ways
Updated: Jul 30, 2021
1. of undisputed origin; genuine
2. conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features
Martial arts are an oral tradition learned through a Master/student relationship. This is how traditional cultural arts have been perpetuated in Japan for centuries. Lineage refers to the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next.
In order for our martial arts to represent our lineage we must teach, practice and interpret correctly. We must develop an accurate representation of the skills, strategies and principles of our chosen disciplines. I am aware of several schools claiming lineage to specific masters while those very masters do not agree with such claims. Once a school makes too many changes, either purposefully or through ignorance, they are no longer representative of their lineage. In fairness, there may be reasons to break from ones heritage. In that case, however, it may be disingenuine to continue to claim an affiliation to ones lineage.
Many cultural practices have strategies for preserving memories, knowledge, rituals and other aspects of practice. At Kodokai Dojo, our method of rank promotion, our curriculum and our standards are designed to support the concept that ones rank should accurately reflect development in the style specified on ones rank certificate. In other words, a person should maintain a level of peformance reflecting the quantity, quality, depth and accuracy of technique approriate for their rank reflective of the style they are learning. Correct stances, use of hips, control of body tension, self-defense applications, state of mind, and other forms of technical ability, as well as interpersonal actions, decorum and attitude all should be appropriate to the peculiarities of ones rank and chosen discipline.
We are participating in an old cultural tradition and not simply members of a gym, self-help or self-defense program. We each must take responsibility to embody the technical and philosophical teachings of our teachers. We are part of something bigger than ourselves.
It may help to explain how the strategy of interconnecting rank with lineage are used to preserve our old skills and knowledge. For example:
The rank of 1st degree black belt indicates that a person has demonstrated an understandng of the basic techniques and principles of the art.
The rank of 4th degree black belt is where a person is recognized as a novice teacher. This rank acknowledges technical proficiency and depth of knowledge. By teaching, a person demonstrates their interpretation of the style through their students. In this way the 4th degree black belt continues to develop under the mentorship of a more experienced master.
The rank of 7th degree black belt may be awarded to senior teachers. Think of this as an indication that a person has demonstrated the ability to transmit the style effectively to others by producing quality students who, in turn, have reached the first teaching level (4th degree black belt) and are able to teach the style effectively.
Of course, not every school or organization works this way, particularly in America. Too often, people are teaching way before they have appropriate experience.
The karate that we practice at Kodokai Dojo was taught to me by Odo Sensei. Most of Odo’s teachers were born in the 1800’s (his first teacher was born in 1870). Our karate (and our Udundi) passed through very few people to get from the 1800’s to our dojo. In my case, most of my rank advancements have required evaluations not only of my own technical ability but also that of my students. Sometimes observations of me actively teaching others, and not always my own students, was a requirement. This way of advancement fascilitates ones ability to practice and teach karate representative of ones teachers, or, lineage.
Of course, having a lineage with great masters doesn’t guarentee that any of us will become a skilled martial artist. We are each responsible for our own learning, technical ability, behavior and involvement. Our advantage, however is that we have a clear path to follow and a way to produce consistent results. And we aren't alone. We are connected to a long history of teachers who can continue to inspire and teach us through the skills they have passed down. We just have to do the work.